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8
Feb

Google faces lawsuit accusing it of selling defective Pixel phones


Despite being a great phone that we loved, the Google Pixel hasn’t been without its issues, as evidenced by our article on common problems owners might face. The launch of the original Pixel phones mostly went off without a hitch, and the phone was a global hit, yet Google now faces legal troubles thanks to a class action lawsuit filed against the search giant, after claims that the original Pixel was shipped and sold despite a known flaw with the microphone.

According to Fast Company, the lawsuit is rooted in flaws with the microphone that the suit claims were present from the date of sale — and that Google knew the phones were defective before they were shipped. Google admitted that the fault existed in March 2017, but hasn’t mentioned anything about the issue being present at the date of sale, and has stuck to honoring standard warranty claims.

According to Fast Company’s article, which cites a Google employee on support forums, the fault can be traced back to a hairline crack on the solder connection on the audio codec. This sort of issue is especially frustrating to consumers, since different temperatures and the phone’s orientation make the problem intermittent: It works some times and shorts out at others. Fast Company considers this the reason many Pixel owners did not report the fault until after the phone fell out of warranty.

The company pursuing the lawsuit, Girard Gibbs LLC, is already involved in a similar lawsuit against Google involving the Pixel 2 range. The Pixel 2, despite being an otherwise fine phone, was beset by screen issues in its XL variant, with many users reporting significant screen burn-in. Google’s response to the issue was fast, with the giant attempting to downplay the impact of the burn and extending the warranty to two years, but it’s clear from the consumer response that users don’t feel that was enough.

Google may want to sort out this issue as fast as possible too, as Girard Gibbs LLC recently settled the long-running LG “bootloop” lawsuit, so it’s clear that mobile giant-slaying is a part of the law firm’s repertoire.

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8
Feb

U.K. smartphone manufacturer Wileyfox descends into bankruptcy


Wileyfox, the U.K.-based smartphone manufacturer specializing in budget phones, has gone into bankruptcy proceedings (or “administration” as it’s termed in the U.K.) with the administrative receiver Quantuma.

The news came via a post on the /r/Wileyfox subreddit, with Wileyfox-Jack breaking the news that his job had been lost as a result of restructuring, and lamenting that he would no longer be able to offer official support to the community.

“Wileyfox Europe Limited is in Administration. Andrew Andronikou and Andrew Hosking are appointed joint administrators and act jointly and severally without personal liability,” Jack said. With some emotion evident, he also added “Today is a sad day not just because I lost my job but because I believed in the Wileyfox brand :(“. It’s clear from Jack’s post that the thirty-strong Wileyfox team (as they were) had a strong bond. According to The Register, as many as twenty staff members have lost their jobs.

Wileyfox was one of the earliest startups to take advantage of the Android fork Cyanogen, after the rogue Android build split off from Google in 2015. After Cyanogen shut down in late 2016, Wileyfox switched over to Android, and began to offer significant price cuts in exchange for lock-screen ads on new phones.

But it seems that Wileyfox’s money troubles weren’t wholly based on a lack of sales. While Wileyfox never spoke officially about its funding, details from the administrative process have revealed that significant amounts of Wileyfox’s backing was tied into the Russian bank Promsvyazbank, which was bailed out by the Russian government in December to the tune of $3.4 billion. However, as pointed out by Techcrunch, it’s clear that Wileyfox was struggling prior to the Russian bank’s failure, with the company recording a 1.5 million British pound (roughly $2 million) loss in April 2017.

At this time it’s not clear what the plan regarding Wileyfox will be, but it’s fair to assume that extreme cost-cutting will be norm while a buyer or extra funding is sought. A source speaking to Techcrunch blamed a lack of penetration into the budget market as a large part of the reason for the company’s current failure, with strong competition from Huawei and other budget brands as the primary reason that Wileyfox phones failed to find mass appeal.

The future of overseeing Wileyfox Group and Wileyfox Mobile are currently unclear based on current events, and no one seems to yet know whether they too will be pulled into administration.

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8
Feb

Snapchat now lets you create custom, wacky AR Lenses with new fee-based tool


Tired of the puppy dog face and dancing hot dog? Snapchat is now allowing users to create their own augmented reality lenses. On Feb. 8, Snapchat launched Create Your Own Lens, a tool that lets users add their own Snapchat Lens to the app’s popular AR features. The tool is designed for tasks like creating a custom graphic for a wedding, party, or another event.

Unlike Snapchat’s Lens Studio that’s designed for businesses, Create Your Own Lens is off-limits to business. Snap Inc. says the tool is designed with the everyday user in mind, and that the custom lenses can be generated in as little as five minutes. Part of that simplicity is a template-based system with personalization options. At launch, the collection includes more than 150 templates.

Snap Inc. says the tool is designed for parties and events, or to use as a gift. The tool is rolling out on the web and iOS today, but the company says an Android option is in the works. Snapchat is rolling the option out to users in the U.S. first, with a global rollout planned. The custom filter’s aren’t free, however, with prices starting at $10.

The tool is also launching with additional type options, including brush, italics, glow, gradient, rainbow, and Old English font designs for Snap captions.

So, how do you create a custom Snapchat lens?

There are two options to access the tool. The first is by heading to snapchat.com/create. Mobile users can go to settings, then “filters and lenses” to access the same tool. (As mentioned, mobile option is currently only for iOS, but an Android version is coming soon.)

Once inside the lens creation tool, users start by choosing a template from the options. Then, those AR lenses can be customized with different text options. The option to add a photograph, which Snapchat had before the launch of the lens designer, is also available here.

After the lens design is complete, enter a time and location for when the lens will be live for that event. Snapchat allows you to choose between 20,000 to 5 million square feet, which means you can allow that filter to go out a few blocks if you’d like.

Once the design is finished and times and location established, users just need to check out. Snapchat says you need to check out at least three hours before the start time in order to ensure the lens is available for the entire event.

The Create Your Own Lens option expands on the Lens Studio that launched in December. The newest option is designed for any user, while the desktop-based Studio is geared toward businesses and users with a bit more computer savvy. Snapchat also allows users to create custom Geofilters, a tool that launched in 2016.

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8
Feb

Apple demands DMCA takedown of secret iBoot code leaked on Github


A portion of Apple’s proprietary source code for iOS devices has been leaked online. The code, labeled ‘iBoot’ is responsible for ensuring only trusted versions of iOS can boot on Apple devices.

Shortly after Apple learned of the leaked source code, the company issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takdeown request to Github requesting its immediate removal. Apple’s DMCA request was published by Github and states the reason for the request is because “the ‘iBoot’ source code is proprietary and it includes Apple’s copyright notice. It is not open-source.” Github complied with the request and removed it from the repository of a user named ZioShiba.

Although the leaked code appears to be for an older version of the operating system, iOS 9, it may contain relevant code still used in iOS 11. While Apple does make some portions of its code open source, iBoot has never been included and is closely guarded by the company.

It’s unclear how the code was obtained and who published it on Github. ZioShiba, the user who posted the code, appears to be relatively inactive on the platform, having last posted seven months before the iBoot leak. However a user by the same name appears to be pretty active other places online, with a YouTube channel featuring iOS hacks as well as a Twitch account.

While ZioShiba was the first to post the iBoot source code on Github, this is not the first time the code has appeared online. Last year a Reddit user named apple_internals published the same code on Reddit, however it failed to gain the same amount of attention.

Apple issued a statement assuring users that the leaked code was outdated and there is no need for alarm. “Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked but, by design the security of our products doesn’t depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built in to our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections.”

Although the leaked iBoot code should be cause for concern, newer Apple devices have additional layers of protection for users. Since 2013, Apple has included a Secure Enclave chip on iPhones. It effectively creates a separate computer within the iPhone to store both encryption and decryption keys, as well as other sensitive data.  Since Secure Enclave uses a physically embedded key to authenticate, it creates a scenario where it’s nearly impossible for hackers to access sensitive information by brute force.

Updated February 8: Update includes statement from Apple concerning age of source code and additional layers of protection for iOS devices.

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8
Feb

How are those 280-character tweets working? Twitter grows, but not in U.S.


Twitter’s global user count grew to 330 million monthly active users, but U.S.-based users are signing in to the platform less often. On Thursday, February 8, Twitter shared its fourth quarter and year-end financial results — including just how well those new 280 character Tweets are faring.

Twitter’s monthly active user count worldwide grew four percent both last year and last quarter, but the daily user growth on the platform saw a much higher margin of growth. Daily active users, in the last quarter, grew by 12 percent, maintaining a double-digit growth for the last five quarters.

The numbers in the U.S., however, aren’t so good; in the last quarter, monthly active users in the U.S. dropped by two percent, from 69 million to 68 million. Twitter said the drop was in part because of changes in Safari’s third-party app integration because users aren’t included in the numbers. The network was also plagued by the #WomenBoycottTwitter last year and users vowing to leave because of the abuse on the platform. The company has since made multiple revisions to the community rules and how those rules are implemented, which continues to be a focus as the company moves into 2018.

While growth wasn’t high for the company, users that are using the platform appear to be spending more time on it, or at least, engaging more. Twitter said that, after upping the character limit to 280, users find it easier and faster to tweet. Users that use that full limit receive more likes, retweets, mentions, and tend to have more followers. That same group of users tends to log in more often and spend more time on Twitter once there.

Interaction with ads also saw a big increase, with engagement up 75 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. Twitter says that improving the ad options and delivering more relevant ads led to the change. Facebook saw a similar trend in 2017, with growth slowing and the time spent on the platform decreasing but ad spending actually increasing.

If the 2017 results are any indication, Twitter will also continue to focus on video growth. In just the last quarter, the company finalized 22 new partnerships for live-streaming and other video formats, with nine of those international. The platform streamed 1,140 live events and 28 million user-generated live-streams.

Financially, the report is a bright spot for Twitter with the company’s first GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) profit in the green since going public four years ago.

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8
Feb

Instead of getting stranded, get this discounted Aukey jump starter


It’ll save you a time or two.

Right now you can pick up this 12000mAh 400A jump start kit for just $34.79 when you use the coupon code AUKEYBC1. This is the lowest price this has ever hit.

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Aukey’s jump starter can be used for cars, boats, motorcycles, and lawnmowers. It’ll even charge your phone. It also has a flashlight to help light your path. For these reasons, an item like this is essential in your car. Keep it in your glovebox or trunk next to your first aid kid and you’ll always be prepared. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but you’ll be glad to have it on hand.

This features 2 USB ports, 400 peak amps, and 12000mAh of backup charging power. Your purchase is backed by a 2-year guarantee.

See at Amazon

8
Feb

Oreo update for Galaxy S8 does not support Project Treble


This still isn’t a big deal.

After months of being stuck in beta, Android Oreo for the Galaxy S8/S8+ is officially rolling out as a public release. Oreo adds a lot of welcome features to the S8, such as better performance, picture-in-picture, Google’s Autofill API, and more, but one thing you won’t find is support for Project Treble.

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Project Treble was announced last May, and its main purpose is to help increase the speed of sluggish software updates that plague so many Android phones. Devices that ship with Oreo and later are required to have it, but a phone that shipped with an older version and was then updated to Oreo isn’t required to do so.

In addition to the Galaxy S8/S8+, we also saw OnePlus choose to not support Treble with the OnePlus 3, 3T, 5, and 5T.

This may sound like a huge blow to the Galaxy S8 considering that Samsung’s update speed has been notoriously slow, but we still haven’t seen any real-world benefit from Treble. The idea of having faster software updates is undoubtedly nice, but until Google can prove that it makes a meaningful difference, it’s not worth getting worked up over a phone not supporting it.

If you’re the owner of a Galaxy S8, is the lack of Project Treble a big deal to you?

Samsung is finally rolling out the Oreo update to the Galaxy S8/S8+

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8
Feb

Oculus Go vs Samsung Gear VR


Take your VR experience with your everywhere, but do you really need your phone to do it?

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Oculus and Samsung have been working together for years on a portable, powerful VR solution using some of the most popular phones on the planet. In doing so, the Gear VR has become one of the most vibrant and active VR headsets available today. For all of its strengths, it still requires you use your phone and drain your battery to get the best experience. With everything it has learned about mobile computing and VR experiences, Oculus is prepared to offer an alternative to the phone-powered portable VR headset. It’s called Oculus Go, and it’s coming later this year at a price aimed to make people question using the Gear VR or using this new headset.

This isn’t an easy decision to make, especially if you are already a part of the Gear VR ecosystem, but here’s what you can expect when looking at these headsets side-by-side.

Hardware Compared

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Oculus Go is made to be a “standalone” VR headset. That means, instead of sticking a phone into a slot to act as the brain, the computer and display and motion hardware is baked right in to the headset. The only thing that computer ever has to do is show you VR experiences, but it has to do so very well. With that in mind, here’s how these headsets compare on paper.

Field of View 90 degrees 101 degrees
Processor Snapdragon 821 Depends on phone
Memory 4GB RAM 4GB RAM
Audio Internal speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack Phone speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Storage 32GB, 64GB 64GB onboard storage, microSD slot
Battery Unknown Depends on phone
Display LCD display (2560×1440) AMOLED (2560×1440)
Sensors 3DoF Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer 3DoF Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer
Controller 3Dof Controller 3DoF Controller
Network WiFi WiFi, Cellular

A couple of things stick out right away. First, it’s very unlikely a Gear VR will ever be able to offer the kind of long-term VR experience you can get from an Oculus Go with its dedicated battery. Even if you were interested in totally draining a Note 8, it’s not going to last as long as this headset will. The built-in speakers in the Oculus Go are going to sound much nicer than your phone speakers as well, both because the Oculus Go speakers are designed for spatial audio and because the Samsung phone in the Gear VR is farther from your ears. That having been said, if you plan to use headphones most of the time the audio experiences will likely be very similar.

The other particulary important detail when comparing these two headsets is the Field of View (FoV) of the lenses. Samsung has been slowly increasing the FoV on the Gear VR until it has reached the current 101-degree measurement, which is close to what you get with a lot of desktop-quality VR experiences. Meanwhile, the Oculus Go is settling for a smaller 90-degree FoV. This means less of your vision will be filled with the virtual experience you are watching, and potentially also offer more places for incoming light to reflect.

It’s not surprising these headsets look and feel so similar on the outside given how closely Samsung and Oculus have worked together, but it’s clear these experiences will not be at all the same when you go to actually use the headsets.

Similar Software

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Oculus maintains all of the software for the Gear VR. When you install the Gear VR software on your phone, it’s the Oculus Store and Oculus Runtime you are installing. You can’t even use your Samsung payment tools to buy VR apps, it all goes through the Oculus services. Samsung makes a couple of great apps for the Gear VR, but this experience is largely made and maintained by Oculus. With Oculus Go, the company is moving from controlling all of the software on an OS made by another company to controlling the entire experience from top to bottom. There shouldn’t be a ton of differences between the Oculus Go and the Gear VR when it comes to software, but it turns out there will be some important initial limitations.

At launch, Samsung’s Gear VR will continue to have significantly more apps than Oculus Go. Oculus says it should be trivially easy for Gear VR developers to port apps to the Oculus Go, but that doesn’t mean every developer is going to want to. From retail packaging, we’ve already seen a number of popular VR experiences will be available on Oculus Go at launch, but very little so far indicates the total number of apps will be anywhere near what the Gear VR currently has available.

Considering how similar these headsets are, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this change quickly. With the same basic head tracking and motion control systems in both headsets, as long as Oculus can demonstrate people are actually buying this headset there’s little reason for developers to only support the one platform.

Which should you buy?

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As similar as these headsets are, there’s some clear strengths and weaknesses here. Oculud Go is made to be portable without killing your phone battery. You can take a Gear VR with you anywhere you can take an Oculus Go, but unless you also carry around a portable battery it’s not usually great to use the Gear VR when not at home. Oculus Go, on the other hand, will be just as great at home as it would be in a plane or on a train, and as long as the same quality apps and games from the Gear VR store make it to the Oculus Go quickly you’ll be able to really have some fun here.

Naturally, cost is an issue. Many Gear VR owners got their headset for free when they upgraded to their Samsung phone, and even those who bought the headset typically didn’t spend more than $100 for the current kits. Oculus Go is going to be priced at $199 at launch, and while that is super cheap compared to every other VR headset out there it’s still $199 more than most folks paid for a Gear VR. Whether that upgrade ends up being worth it will be entirely up to Oculus.

8
Feb

Smart buyers guide for phone accessories in 2018


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How to live your best accessory life.

Phone accessories are ubiquitous these days. Anyone who owns a smartphone in 2018 is likely to use a variety of accessories during an average day of using your phone: charging cables and bricks, wireless charging pads, Bluetooth headphones, or some dongle so you can use your old earbuds.

The annual release of new phones brings us an inevitable new wave of accessories. If you’re planning to upgrade to a new phone this year from a phone that still uses micro-USB (the Samsung Galaxy S7, for example), you’re about to make all those cables you’ve been collecting obsolete as you enter the realm for the sweet world of USB-C.

Being a smart smartphone owner isn’t about buying more or fewer accessories, but instead being smarter in the purchases you make to support your phone. Here are some tips to help you make smarter buying decisions for accessories that will work life easier.

Do an inventory check on what you have and your needs

Before you go and make some impulse purchases on Amazon, take a moment to inventory the stuff you have already and figure out what you still need. This is an especially important thing to do if it’s been a while since you last bought a new phone.

The essential accessories are ones that keep your phone charged throughout the day, and the easiest way to lose your phone charger is to only own one and bring it everywhere you go. It’s all too easy to accidentally leave it in a study hall, office space, or at a friend’s place.

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There are three charging scenarios you need to consider: Life at home, in your car or during your commute, and at work or school. Ideally, you’ll want to keep the accessories that came with your phone at home, because if you ever plan on reselling your device it’s always best to have the original accessories in good shape. Travel accessories are important to keep in the bag you use on a daily basis, and might include a high-capacity power bank, a trusty charging cable, a good set of Bluetooth headphones or maybe even a Bluetooth speaker. If you drive, you’ll probably want a car mount for your daily commute, too And at work, depending on what line of business you’re in, you might want a wireless charging pad for your desk or a reliable wall brick and cable to keep in your locker.

Accessories are a personal preference and everyone’s needs will be different. But once you’ve gone through everything you own and have addressed the gaps you’d like to fill, the next smart move is ensuring you’re investing in quality accessories.

Don’t get stuck in the cheap accessory cycle

Story time.

When I got my first smartphone (an iPhone) a decade ago, it took me a good while to get the hang of this new era of being obsessed with your phone. I never remembered being so paranoid about my phone’s battery life with a flip phone, but suddenly with my first phone with a touchscreen, I absolutely needed to have my charging stuff with me at all times.

Once you fall into the habit of buying cheap cables, the sunk cost fallacy starts to creep in.

Making things worse was the fact that I was a clumsy kid who was really bad at keeping track of my things, and a phone charger was the easiest thing to lose. If I wasn’t begging to borrow a friend’s charger, I was bouncing out to buy a cheap-o replacement from 7-11 or Walmart. Over the years later, I’ve cycled through small nest-eggs of replacement cables and earbuds that I’ve bought from convenience stores, airports, and cheaply in bulk off of Amazon.

Once you fall into the habit of buying cheap cables, the sunk cost fallacy starts to creep in: you bought the first cable for $5 because you didn’t want to put out for a name brand one for $20. You knew it was cheap and replaceable… and now it needs to be replaced — might as well try save money and replace it with another cheap one, right?

In the same way you’re likely to take better care of a brand new $900 phone then the old phones you keep stashed in a drawer, I think it’s easy for us to take better care of the accessories that come with our phones and lump all third-party accessories as lesser-than — because we’ve all probably dealt with a crappy product. I propose that we all take better care of our phone accessories, which starts with better planning and spending a bit more on something reliable rather than buying cheap accessories as stop-gap measures.

We need to collectively do a better job at cutting down on e-waste

I keep coming back to charging accessories as my primary example here, but it goes the same for any other accessories we buy — whether it’s headphones, speakers, or a battery pack. There is so many options out there at every price point and everyone loves a good deal — but the old adage “you get what you pay for” always rings true when buying tech.

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Living in a northern climate, charging cables I leave in my car frequently become extremely brittle due to the winter cold. When the cheap cables would inevitably break, I’d throw them away and go buy another cheap cable. It wasn’t until I got my hands on a more rugged cable by Ventev that the cycle stopped. Making one small change has made a significant difference for an essential accessory that I now don’t foresee needing to replace for years.

There’s a lot of talk about planned obsolescence in the smartphone market, but there doesn’t seem to be as much focus on cheap accessories that seem exclusively designed to be almost disposable. While companies like Apple or Samsung talk highly about responsible device recycling programs, and some wireless carriers mitigate e-waste with their own disposal services, we all can do our part in addressing the global issue of electronic waste by acting as more sensible and responsible consumers.

What do you think?

What are some accessories you’d recommend that have never let you down? Are you concerned about the growing issue of e-waste? Drop us a line in the comments.

8
Feb

Chrome browser will soon mark all HTTP pages as ‘Not secure’, because they aren’t


Google wants you to know which websites are safe and which aren’t.

Google wants to rid the web of sites not protected by HTTPS encryption, and it has told us how it is going to do its part to let everyone know that “regular” HTTP sites are “Not secure” in Chrome version 68.

Coming in July 2018, whenever a user navigates to an HTTP site in Chrome the Omnibox will spell it all out.

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It’s important to remember that this won’t actually affect the loading of an HTTP web site, but will only serve as a notice for users. Google has been selectively marking HTTP pages as not secure for about a year any time a Chrome user enters any data on a page and for every HTTP page visited when using Incognito mode. Today’s news just means that it’s going to happen to every site, for every user with Chrome 68 for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as Chrome OS version 68.

HTTPS uses certificates and encryption layers to keep private data between you and the website you want to have it.

HTTPS is short for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure and it means that the connection between you and a website is happening on secure channels. Trust certificates are used as a way to encode and decode encryption, and unless a certificate vendor (like Verisign) fouls up nobody but you and the website can read the data you’re sending. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often, which makes it the best way to stay secure without shaking up the way the internet works and how browsers send and read user data.

Google also has beefed up its developer tools in order to help developers make the move, most notably the Lighthouse automated tool which can check what’s ready and what’s not for even the most complicated domain. Interested web devs can check out some handy set-up guides to get started.

Like any business, Google has to look after its own interests first. it’s great when their interests line up so well with what’s best for everyone.

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